Known Pleasures

Posted by Pete DeMola on 17. Aug 2010

By Francis Tseng

BEIJING, AUG 17 -- Arms & Legs was born and bred in the States, but have taken a rather unconventional and international route to their present-day success. The Connecticut/New York-based band was transplanted to Beijing in 2006 after signing to Modern Sky, one of China's largest independent record labels.

Since then, the group has taken off at home and abroad, playing many large domestic festivals -- including the 2009 Strawberry Music Festival and next week's Great Wall Tanglewood Forest Music Festival -- and has shared the stage with bold-faced names, including the Lemonheads, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and New Pants.

The trio, helmed by Scott Daly, is returning to the Middle Kingdom to promote their latest release, The Baggage Wheel. Released last week, the full-length infuses the spirit of Joy Division with an electronic flair, making for a dark work that has moments of clarity and bursts of playfulness.

It is a big departure from the band's last release, Nothing Ever Was (2008); a more understated effort with less of an emphasis on electronics. The new sound, which works to incorporate influences of China's scene, is a very interesting and refreshing change.

Here, Scott Daly discusses his thoughts on the new record, his personal inspirations and the current state of China's music scene.

Why did you choose to sign with China's Modern Sky as opposed to an American label?

I want to play music anywhere I can and Modern Sky and Shen Lihui were as excited as I am to release it. I also need to see as much of the world as possible.

Are you now primarily based out of Beijing or do you still spend most your time in the States? Why did you choose one or the other?

It is kind of a half-and-half time share. I love my home in Connecticut but I also fell in love with Beijing very quickly. I have great friends in both places. I like to choose which place I will be depending on who wants me there at the time. People can get tired quickly of having a rock singer in their living area. I have the tendency to drink and sing a lot!

What direction do you think China's music scene is taking? How do you feel you're contributing to or influencing the scene? How do you feel it compares to the scene in the States?

I love the music in Beijing! All of the bands have an amazing grasp on all the bands I grew up listening to, which is mostly American and English rock and punk bands. It seems that there are a lot of electronic rock bands out there and I wouldn't be surprised if that's what China gets recognized for. I simply hope to have any impact on the scene... I just want to be a part of it. I always joke that Beijing is the New York of China. I think the music speaks for itself: you can find almost everything in Beijing...same with New York. It's got a certain soul that is hard to find! Trust me, I have lived in both cities.

How has being involved in the Beijing/China music scene influenced your own work?

The musicians have influenced me in many ways. When I first came to Beijing and hung out with New Pants, we would play shows together (with me on backup guitar). I watched the way they worked... the equipment, samples and synths. I told the label that the next Arms & Legs record would be electronic! I just wanted to have the fun they were having with my friends. Plus, those guys are hilarious.

You generally write and record everything on your own. Did you do the same for the newest album? Do you generally work in a studio setting or home setting? "Bedroom producers" have been becoming fairly popular lately, with the likes of Washed Out, Toro Y Moi, and other similar at-home musicians becoming big deals. What are your thoughts on the accessibility of modern recording equipment?

Yes. My friend Brett Lefferts and myself recorded everything in his apartment/living room in New York. We would record all day and night through every weekend for two months. When one of us would fall asleep the other would work and so on. It was fun! We are the definition of "bedroom producers." I never had the money to own the equipment to do so until the past two years, so I love the fact that we live in a time where that is possible.

Who are some up-and-coming or relatively new musicians that you find particularly appealing or interesting? In China or elsewhere.

Ed Harcourt is a singer songwriter from England who influenced our entire first record while we recorded it. Also, the now late, great Mark Linkous/Sparklehorse. We also love watching Hedgehog play live: they make us feel like we are skating in 1996 all over again!

Do you enjoy playing in China or the States more? How are the audiences different, and how are performances different in general between the two?

China has this great energy about it. Every show we have played in China (especially the festivals) the kids dance and have fun! We feed off of's the reason I love playing live. The audience controls the attitude of what is going to happen. That's the best part -- it makes every show different.

Your earlier work had a minimalist nature to it, often incorporating just a guitar and your voice, while the new record incorporates more layers of instruments for a thicker, deeper sound. Why did you opt to depart from your sparser sound to this fuller one with new instrumentation?

When I was younger, I used to do electronic rock stuff with a ton of guitar pedals, cheap drum machines and Casio keyboards. We played a lot of rock/electronic shows in Connecticut and New York when growing up. All my friends remembered me as that musician, so the acoustic stuff was actually the "middle" period that was different then the rest. I actually went back to doing electronic music and bigger sounds. I wouldn't have one without the other though. I think I need them both to survive this world: it is the balance that keeps me together.

What were your inspirations and influences for the new album? What were you trying to accomplish?

The record I had on repeat throughout the entire process of writing and recording The Baggage Wheel was Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures. Ian Curtis was such an amazing person and haunted man. I had recently gotten out of the hospital when we started writing and recording the record. I watched the movie Control (the story of Joy Division and Ian Curtis) and showed it to Brett then said "That is what I want to do." We started the next day and wrote and recorded "Packing My Wires Away" in three hours.

It has an ethereal, atmospheric, almost dark quality to it. Was there a reason behind this new sound?

All I wanted to do was tell my story of what had been happening to me. I spent a long time with drug problems and the first record was made in the heart of all of those problems. I needed to clear the soul. I didn't want to wallow in the sadness anymore -- I wanted to scream it. All the guys were behind me on the idea of it. They watched me sink for a long time. We didn't realize how dark it sounded until after Bryce Goggin mixed it. We all kind of sat back and heard it for the first time. I think I actually apologized for how crazy it sounded. Don't get me wrong: we are crazy, just not that crazy.

Arms & Legs will perform on Sat, Aug 28 at the Great Wall Tanglewood Forest Music Festival. Everything you need to know -- from the schedule to how to get there -- can be found on the Official Website.

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